At the end of 2019, the Pittsburgh Pirates thought about making Steven Brault a two-way player. What happened to that rumor?
At the end of last regular season, a rumor had sprung up that the Pittsburgh Pirates would try to make left-handed pitcher Steven Brault a two-way player. The rumor had started with this tweet by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey:
Now this idea isn’t too far-fetched. Brault is one of the more interesting players on the Pirates roster. Not only can he be a solid left-handed pitcher, but he has on occasion sang the National Anthem during pre-game rituals. On the mound last season, Brault pitched to a 5.16 ERA, 4.76 FIP, and 1.50 WHIP through 113.1 innings. He appeared in 25 games, with 19 being starts, but he was quite effective during the summer. From mid-May to the beginning of September, Brault posted a 2.97 ERA, 3.62 FIP, and kept opponents to a .679 OPS through 78.2 innings.
If Brault can find consistency and become the pitcher he was during that near four month stretch last season, then he can be an effective MLB pitcher. Both as a starter and a reliever. However, until he finds that consistency it’s hard to believe that he will.
Brault also was a factor with the bat when he did get a chance to step to the plate. In 50 plate appearances, the lefty swatted a home run, a double, and even drew a walk. He still was above average with the bat, resulting in a 105 wRC+.
Two-way players is a new revolution in baseball. Although, not every single two-way attempt is going to result in a Shohei Ohtani it is something that gives a team a good amount of roster flexibility.
This is something the Cincinnati Reds tried with right-handed pitcher Michael Lorenzen last season. Lorenzen was extremely effective on the mound, pitching to a 2.92 ERA, 3.66 FIP, and 1.15 WHIP with an opponent OPS of .644 in 83.1 innings. Overall, very similar numbers to Brault’s hot streak. Lorenzen, who had previously been an outfielder in college, had hit the ball well a season prior in 2018, and was given opportunities in the outfield in 2019. He provided +1 DRS, and a 0.1 UZR in the grass, which is very good considering the situation. I mean, just look at this catch against the Pirates last season. Not to mention how fast he is. Lorenzen’s 28.7 feet/second sprint speed ranked 87th in the MLB. That’s faster than Mookie Betts, Jose Altuve, Dee Gordon, Javier Baez, and just a step behind Andrew McCutchen.
Regardless, the point is that this is a strategy many teams are considering, even in raising prospects. The Rays are raising former first rounder Brendan McKay as a two-way player, and the Angels have two more two-way players in their farm right now.
So what happened with the rumor? Well it was a statement made by Clint Hurdle, who was let go soon after he made this statement. I do not think the new regime of Derek Shelton and his crew have considered making Brault a two-way player, as we probably would have gotten more updates to the progress on improving his fielding and batting. However, even if they do not pursue this right now, this is something the Pirates need to try. Roster flexibility is becoming extremely important. Having a guy who can give you 3 quality plate appearances a game, but also be able to pitch a few solid innings is very valuable as it can give both pitchers and position players days off. Plus with new rules being implemented to designate a player as a two-way player, the MLB in general is recognizing the new evolution.